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Danube floods worsened by wetland loss


Current Danube Agreements and developing European initiatives offer hope that this will happen but are taking place too slowly to prevent further significant damage in the coming years.

Floodplain wetlands are like natural sponges: they act as storage reservoirs allowing large volumes of water to be held during floods and slowly and safely released into rivers. These wetlands can help to reduce the impacts of floods downstream, as well as providing other benefits, such as for agriculture and nature. However, in the last 150 years, 80% of the wetlands along the Danube have been severely degraded or converted to other land uses. This has drastically reduced the capacity for storage of floodwaters.
European society is becoming more vulnerable to the damage and disruption caused by floods due to land-use and climatic changes. According to the EU, over the period 1998-2004 different parts of Europe experienced 100 catastrophic floods leading to at least 700 hundred deaths, displacing about half a million people and causing 25 billion euro in economic losses.
Floods are natural phenomena and are impossible to prevent, but measures can be taken to reduce their severity and the damage they cause.  Wetland restoration must be a key part of any strategy designed to do this.

Floodplain restoration is a big part of the answer. In 2000, the Lower Danube countries committed to restore 223,608 ha of the former floodplain areas, in the framework of the Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement. Only 6% of this commitment has been accomplished to date, and the largest wetland areas that have been converted to agricultural polders are still waiting to be reconnected to the river.
At the European scale, the European Commission is working on a new Flood Directive, that would eventually be implemented in most of the States along the Danube. The Directive is planned to reduce the risks associated with floods and may trigger the restoration of wetlands as part of wider strategies to reduce flood risk. However, it will probably take many years before its implementation becomes a reality.
The 17 countries in the catchment area of the Danube are all members of the Ramsar Convention and approved the resolutions about wetland protection and restoration in order to prevent and mitigate river floods (resolution VII-18 in 1999 and resolution IX-9 in 2005). However, too little has been done yet to execute these.

Wetlands International sees positive signs; but action is too slow.

Jane Madgwick
CEO Wetlands International

Chris Baker
Goal leader Wetlands and water resources management
Wetlands International

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